As Nepali Congress is set to lead coalition government, will its leader Sher Bahadur Deuba be back as PM?
Eyebrows are being raised in Kathmandu over the Nepal Army awarding the contract for the sixth package of the Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track (KTFT) road project to a controversial Chinese company that was earlier rejected for the work as it did not have the technical expertise to carry out the project. The contract has been given to China First Highway Engineering Company, just days ahead of the general elections on November 20.
Afcons Infrastructure India was the only Indian company to be able to place its bid at such a short notice. It is learnt that the Indian authorities are now planning to take up the issue with Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The contract has been awarded after the contractor company lodged an official complaint with the Public Procurement Monitoring Office (PPMO) which comes under the administrative control of the Nepal Prime Minister’s Office.
Earlier, the Nepalese Army rejected the bid of the technical proposal of the same company. However, following the complaint, the company was included in the bidding process.
The abrupt nature of the bidding process has also come to the fore.
The Nepalese Army gave 15 days for bidders to make arrangements to attend the financial bid that was slated to be held on September 16. However, the Army through an email sent on September 15 informed that the financial bid opening was being postponed until further notice. Thereafter the Army on November 6 sent a revised financial bid opening letter in which they included the name of the Chinese firm. The mail was sent at 5 pm in the evening. The financial bid was opened on November 7 at 1 pm and China First Highway Engineering was declared the lowest bidder.
“A scenario was created to plant this Chinese firm at the very last moment so that Afcons India did not get the project in the International competitive bid,” a person with direct knowledge told India Narrative.
Navita Srikant, who has earlier advised the Government of Nepal on governance and anti-corruption said, “National Pride Projects in Nepal are generally well designed with adequate safeguards. After all it is about the reputation of Nepal and an ecosystem of fairness, transparency and accountability. Public procurement systems have been strengthened over recent years under direct oversight of the Prime Minister’s Office. However, in the case of KTFT-Package 06, the allegations are quite serious but I am hopeful that the Deuba government will not tolerate such a level of flouting of norms.”
That is not all.
Bikas Pokharel, who was serving as the project director of the mega project, was unceremoniously transferred while the tender process was underway. Kamal Bikram Shah, who replaced Pokharel, eventually signed the letter of intent (LoI) to the Chinese company.
News organisation Khabarhub.com said in a report that the tender to the Chinese company, which was not even technically competent, has been awarded on the basis of influence or pressure.
The construction of the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway, being touted as a symbol of national pride, was kicked off in 2017. While the deadline was to complete the projects in four years, there has been a delay in construction work. The new deadline is July 2024.
Srikant added that ahead of general elections, zero tolerance to corruption is what a voter and foreign investor would want to see. “We hope to see corrective steps to award the contract as per the process,” she added.